Colorado last played Oklahoma State in 2005, with the Buffs prevailing in Stillwater, 34-0. In ‘05, Mike Gundy’s first season as head coach, the Cowboys finished with a 4-7 record (1-7 in Big 12 play). It’s safe to say that this is not the same team CU faced three seasons ago. The 2008 Cowboys are 8-2 and ranked 11th in the nation.
Saturday night will be a tough test for the Buffs.
This week’s "T.I.P.S."
T - Talent
Aside from the health of the offensive line, no issue concerning the Buffs has consumed more air time this fall than the inconsistent play of the CU quarterbacks. With this backdrop, you have likely heard or read this week that Oklahoma State’s dual threat quarterback Zac Robinson is a Denver prep product (Chatfield High in Littleton, to be exact). The junior was either highly or lightly recruited by Colorado, depending on your source of information. With Robinson’s success to compare to the struggles of the Buffs’ signal callers, the "what might have been" crowd has been in full voice this week (Not that it matters, but according to Scout.com, Robinson was first a Kansas State commit before changing his mind and opting to play for Mike Gundy in Stillwater. CU is not listed as being one of Robinson’s primary considerations).
However he got there, Robinson (only a two star recruit, by the way) has been a blessing for the Oklahoma State program. Taking over as a starter last season, Robinson leads a Cowboy attack which is ranked 7th in the nation in total offense and 6th in the nation in scoring offense. In ten games, Oklahoma State has surpassed the 50 point mark five times. Individually, Robinson is 3rd in the nation in pass efficiency, connecting on two-thirds of his pass attempts. The junior has 20 touchdown passes this season, throwing only six interceptions. Robinson’s favorite target is Dez Bryant, who is second in the country in receiving yards, collecting 114 yards in catches per game.
Lest you believe that the Cowboys are one dimensional, please allow me to introduce you to Kendall Hunter. The OSUsophomore running back is 4th in the nation in rushing, having accumulated 1,332 yards so far in 2008 (as a team, the Buffs have 1,319 rushing yards this season).
Overall, the Cowboys have been held under 30 points only three times this season (20 and 24 in losses to Texas Tech and Texas, respectively, and 28 in a 28-23 win over Missouri).
What can help the Buffs stem this attack? For starters, keeping the ball out of the hands of Robinson and Hunter. Is that feasible? Let’s talk about the much-maligned Colorado offensive line. After season-ending injuries were suffered by tackle Ryan Miller and Max Tuioti-Mariner the week of the Florida State game, the Buffs have fielded the same five linemen for every game in conference play. The unit, consisting of Nate Solder and Matthew Bahr at tackle, Blake Behrens and Devin Head at guard, and Daniel Sanders at center, has been providing more consistent play each week. Granted, the defenses of Texas A&M and Iowa State are not the best in the nation, but the Buffs have generated their best two offensive yardage outputs of the season (392 and 422 yards, respectively) the past two weeks, and the Oklahoma State defense, as is more fully described below in the stats section, is not all that you would expect from an 8-2 team.
If the Buffs can play keep away from the Cowboys, they have a chance to send out the seniors on a high note.
A second half like the one put up against Iowa State will keep things interesting.
A first half like the one against Iowa State will allow Buff fans to get home well before bedtime.
I - Intangibles
The United States celebrated its bi-centennial, "Rocky" was the best picture of the year, Jimmy Carter was elected President, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys won a championship in football.
Yes, it’s been that long since OSU has been on top of its conference. Even that title had to be shared, coming as a tri-championship shared with Colorado and Oklahoma (each team finished with a 5-2 record in Big Eight play). The Cowboys didn’t even get to go to the Orange Bowl that season as Big Eight champions, as Colorado made the trip to Miami. Oklahoma State’s last title was celebrated with a trip to .... the Tangerine Bowl.
2008 won’t be Cowboys’ year, either. Oklahoma State may be ranked 11th in the nation, but the Cowboys are no better than 4thin their own division. The winner of the Texas Tech/Oklahoma game next weekend has the best chance to represent the Big 12 South in the title game, with Texas also very much in the picture. OSU, with two losses in conference, would need a strange combination of outcomes to even share the title this season. Most likely, Oklahoma State will be heading for the Holiday Bowl or the Alamo Bowl late next month.
The rub? There is not much left for Oklahoma State to play for this season. Yes, the Cowboys are in the hunt for a top ten finish. Yes, the Cowboys are on the verge of their first nine win season since 2003. But there will be no titles. Those hopes ended at the final gun of a lopsided 56-20 loss to Texas Tech last weekend. A season-ending battle with Oklahoma awaits, but after that, it’s back to national obscurity for the Cowboys.
Now, I admit I was advocating a two game losing streak for Missouri coming into their game against the Buffs, and we got it. The Tigers fell in successive weekends to OSU and Texas before playing Colorado. The thought was that a dispirited Missouri squad, with their national title hopes dashed, would not be up for playing the Buffs.
An angry Tiger squad mauled the Buffs, 58-0.
Two significant differences here. First, the Missouri Tigers, while out of the national title hunt when they dismantled the Buffs, still were playing for the Big 12 North title and national redemption. Not so for the Cowboys, who are out of the national and Big 12 championship picture. Second, this game will not be played in Columbia, but in the friendly confines of Folsom Field. The game will be senior night for the Buffs, played at night before a national audience on ABC.
The Buffs have pride and a bowl bid to play for. The Cowboys are in a trap game between high profile games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
It may be a reach to think the Buffs have a chance against Oklahoma State.
Then again, it was a reach to think that the Buffs had much of a chance against Oklahoma last season.
P - Preparation / Schedule
Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, Colorado has played its final game of the season on Thanksgiving weekend, with the opponent each year being Nebraska. In even years, such as 2008, when the Buffs play the game in Lincoln, CU faces another conference opponent on senior day at Folsom. With the exception of the lost season of 2000, when the Buffs stumbled to a 3-8 record, every CU senior class which has played its final Big 12 home game against a team other than Nebraska ..... has won.
And some of the wins have been dramatic.
In 1996, the 6th ranked Buffs defeated the 9th ranked Wildcats of Kansas State, 12-0.
In 1998, CU came into the home finale having lost three of their last four games, including two in a row. The seniors, though, were not sent out with a loss, as the Buffs took care of business with a 37-8 win over Iowa State to close out the home slate.
In 2002, the Cyclones were again the victims, bowing 41-27 to CU.
In 2004, it was again KSU’s turn, with Ron Monteilh scoring on a dramatic last second 64-yard touchdown to take down the Wildcats, 38-31.
Even in the 2006 season, a 2-10 debacle, the Buffs were able to send out the senior class with a final home win, this time a 33-16 decision over Iowa State.
In fact, to find a CU loss to a team other than Nebraska in the final home game of the season, you have to go back to 1986, when the Buffs fell in the final home game to Oklahoma.
I’m just sayin’ ....
Oklahoma State is also playing back-to-back road games for the first time this season. In an era when seven and even eight home game schedules are commonplace (everywhere except for Boulder, it seems), facing consecutive road games is becoming less and less prevalent. The Cowboys? Glad you asked. Over the last five seasons, when facing back-to-back road games, Oklahoma State is only 1-6 in the second game.
Hey, we’ll take what we can get!
S - Stats
When I printed out the NCAA stats sheet for Oklahoma State this week, I expected to see a long series of small numbers, and I was not disappointed. The Cowboys rank in the top ten in the nation in six categories, including rushing offense, total offense, and scoring offense.
What I also saw, but which I hadn’t expected to see, were some high numbers from the defense. Oklahoma State is 110th in the nation in pass defense, and a very pedestrian 84th in total defense (your Buffs are 72ndin both pass defense and total defense). Translation: the Cowboys haven’t been dominating their opposition; they have been out-scoring them. The Buffs, if they play like they did in the second half against Iowa State, will have a chance to put some points on the board (in a move not really a surprise to anyone, it was announced that Cody Hawkins will be the starter against OSU, with Tyler Hansen also slated to see some playing time).
Last season, in previewing the Oklahoma game, I set out five factors which all had to fall the Buffs’ way for there to be upset. While they are hardly earth-shattering concepts, they play out the same against OSU this weekend:
1) "Control time of possession". The Cowboys have too many weapons to be contained all night. The Buffs must not only score, but they must take care of the ball and the clock in doing so;
2) "Special teams must have a great day". Okay, against Oklahoma last season, that was a hope. This year, it’s a prayer. For Colorado to have a chance, there cannot be missed field goals, missed tackles, and penalties on special teams. There is no way for the "electoral math" to work for the Buffs if this unit continues to struggle;
3) "Reverse the turnovers". Colorado is minus-five on turnovers (giving up 19; gaining 14). While it is too much to hope that this number will be evened out by the end of the game Saturday, a nice move in the right direction certainly wouldn’t hurt;
4) "Control emotions early". It’s senior night, so there will be a great deal of energy early. The emotions, however, must be contained and channeled. The Buffs cannot beat the Cowboys with a knockout. It must be done with consistent play throughout the night; and
5) "No long plays". The Buffs have given up nine plays this season which have gained over 40 yards (the Buffs have all of two, both in the A&M game, both non-scoring plays). Oklahoma State is going to score, of that there is little doubt. What the Buffs have a say in is how early, how quickly, and how often.
Colorado owns a 26-17-1 edge in its series against Oklahoma State, including a 13-7 edge in games played in Boulder, and an 11-3 mark in games played in the past 20 seasons. Quirky games have been played in this series, with some strange final moments.
Here’s hoping for another unexpected result!
I’ll leave the last word to departing senior linebacker Brad Jones. Jones, one of the 16 seniors who survived a recruiting scandal, a change of coaches, and a 2-10 season. "I never thought I’d be as close as I am with these guys," said Jones of his fellow seniors. "I can literally say that every single person that’s a senior this year is one of my closest friends."
"We must make it a memorable (game)," said Jones. "And we’ve got the chance - we play Okie State!"
It’s their time. Bowl eligibility is there for the taking.
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